Friday, August 5, 2011

The 2d Circuit gives one to the inmates

Allen Harper wanted to file a habeas corpus petition to challenge the constitutionality of his criminal conviction. He had a year to file the petition. He could not do so because he went to the hospital with a serious medical medical condition. The district court dismissed the petition as untimely.

The case is Harper v. Ercole, decided on July 26. The Court of Appeals reinstates the petition on the basis of equitable tolling, an escape hatch that allows the court to extend the statute of limitations in an act of mercy. You need a scorecard to follow the court's reasoning in these cases, so here goes:

Harper's state court conviction became final on May 14, 2007. He had until May 14, 2008 to file the petition. But 78 days before the deadline, he went to the hospital for 65 days, from February 27, 2008 through June 3, 2008. The petition was filed on August 7, 2008, after the deadline. While hospitalization will get you some equitable tolling, and the district court thus decided that Harper got an extra 65 days to file his case, it threw out the petition because Harper did not diligently pursue his rights in the 65 days after he got out out of the hospital.

Giving one to the inmates, the Court of Appeals (Raggi, McLaughlin and Calabresi) reverses, clarifying when the calendar stops and re-starts in equitable tolling cases where the inmate otherwise pursued his rights diligently and did not dilly-dally in the face of a ticking clock:

we conclude that, in this case, where the existence of extraordinary circumstances causing Harper to miss the AEDPA filing deadline is undisputed for the period from February 27, 2008, when Harper was hospitalized, to June 3, 2008, when he was discharged, and where there is no question as to Harper’s diligence in pursuing his claim throughout that period, equity tolled the one-year limitations period to stop on the first date and to resume on the latter date. The timeliness of Harper’s § 2254 filing thus depended on it being within one year of the total untolled time after his conviction became final. Because seventy-eight days remained on the statute of limitations at the start of the tolling period, Harper’s filing of his § 2254 petition on August 17, 2008, sixty-five days after tolling ended, should have been deemed timely without requiring a further showing of diligence in that untolled period.

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